Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern Traction Company

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The Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern Traction Company, or THI&E, was the second largest interurban in the U.S. state of Indiana at the 1920s height of the "interurban era." This system included over 400 miles of track, with lines radiating from Indianapolis to the east, northwest, west and southwest as well as streetcar lines in several major cities. The THI&E was formed in 1907 by the Schoepf-McGowan Syndicate as a combination of several predecessor interurban and street car companies and was operated independently until incorporation into the Indiana Railroad in 1931. The THI&E served a wide range of territory, including farmlands in central Indiana, the mining region around Brazil, and numerous urban centers. Eventually it slowly succumbed, like all of the other central Indiana interurban lines, to competition from automobiles and trucks and improved paralleling highways.


Map of Indiana interurbans in the 1920s

On March 1, 1907, financiers Hugh J. McGowan, Randal Morgan and W. Kesley Schoepf formed the THI&E out of four predecessor companies: the Indianapolis and Western Railway, which operated the line from Indianapolis west to Danville; the Indianapolis and Eastern Railway, with lines from Indianapolis east to Dublin and from Dunreith to New Castle; the Richmond Street and Interurban Railway, with the line in eastern Indiana from Dublin to Richmond; and the Indianapolis Coal Traction Company. Three weeks later the THI&E acquired the Terre Haute Traction and Light Company, which operated a line from Terre Haute south to Sullivan, north to Clinton, Indiana, and west to Paris, Illinois. In April 1907 the Schoepf-McGowan Syndicate leased the Indianapolis and Northwestern Traction Company, a system of over 90 miles with lines from Indianapolis to Lafayette and from Lebanon to Crawfordsville, and purchased the Indianapolis and Martinsville Rapid Transit Company, which ran between the cities in its name. The final major piece of the THI&E was the 1912 addition of the Indianapolis Crawfordsville and Danville Electric Railway, nicknamed the "Ben Hur Route" in honor of Lew Wallace of Crawfordsville, author of the novel "Ben Hur." The THI&E system totaled over 400 miles of track at this point and was the largest Indiana interurban. It also turned out to be one of the financially weakest due to its many unproductive branch lines.

This car is typical of the numerous pre-1910 wood combines which were inherited by IR.


The THI&E was a very typical Midwestern interurban line, operating six far-reaching lines out of Indianapolis to mostly small and midsized prairie cities using large and heavy wood combines like the one pictured. Tracks and right-of-way quality varied. Some track ran tightly adjacent to a steam railroad, some track ran cross country and was very substantial featuring expensive cut-and-fill construction to provide a direct and flat right of way, and some was meandering side of a country road and went up and down with the road and the terrain plus would occasionally jog from one side of the road to the other depending on how uncooperative a farmer had been when the line was constructed. The THI&E's busier lines had color signal block protection which was rare at the time. Many interurbans, including the other major Indiana interurbans and in particular Union Traction, suffered major wrecks as the result of few or no block signals. Most THI&E passenger service was hourly, and main routes also saw package express service. THI&E's limited stop express to Terre Haute from Indianapolis was named the "Highlander." The "Ben Hur Special" ran to Crawfordsville, and the "Tecumseh Arrow" ran to Lafayette. Eventually the most valuable route in terms of both passenger and freight business, its eastward to Richmond line, connected to the Dayton and Western at Richmond, and the two companies combined for a profitable and busy Indianapolis to Dayton service. In the 1920s, the two ran express passenger service between the two large cities, and the freight interchanged from Ohio interurbans by way of the Dayton and Western became financially very important. The THI&E was never prosperous enough to replace its aging fleet of wood interurban cars,.[1][2] but many were modernized. Much of the THI&E's various town streetcar lines were eventually equipped with new one-man Birney streetcars. The THI&E used the huge Indianapolis Traction Terminal along with its neighboring Indianapolis interurban companies.[3]

Absorption into Indiana Railroad[edit]

The THI&E was perhaps the financially weakest line of the great Indiana interurbans. During the prosperous 1920s, its consistent operating deficits were offset only by the sale of power from its coal driven power plants and by the profits of the Indianapolis Street Railway, a subsidiary company. The onset of the Depression added to its woes, and the THI&E went into "operating" bankruptcy called Receivership, where it would continue to operate but not be obligated to pay interest on its bonded debt on April 2, 1930. At this time Samuel Insull's Midland Utilities was in the process of consolidating most of the major Indiana interurbans (Indiana Service Corporation, Interstate Public Service, Union Traction, Northern Indiana Power, and the THI&E) into the new Indiana Railroad. The unprofitable branch lines that made up much of the THI&E did not fit into Insull's master plan, and they were abandoned. The busy west-east Terre Haute through Indianapolis to Richmond line survived, but the Danville, Martinsville, Lafayette and Crawfordsville branches were abandoned on October 31, 1930. The Sullivan and Clinton lines were abandoned early the next year. In June 1931, Midland Utilities absorbed the THI&E into its Indiana Railroad. Track and facilities were improved, and THI&E's large wood passenger combines (passenger+freight in one car) replaced with new lightweight fast passenger cars. Some of the old wood cars became freight box motors. The last of this former THI&E line was abandoned in 1940, and the Indiana Railroad itself abandoned all operations in 1941.

The essential Dayton and Western connection[edit]

The IR's connection to the THI&E's former 1920s partner, the Dayton and Western, at Richmond, Indiana, was essential for IR's freight business from Indianapolis to Dayton, Ohio[4] and from Dayton to the rest of Ohio, particularly to industrial Toledo and Cleveland.[5] When the Dayton and Western went bankrupt in 1937, it was a blow to the Indiana Railroad and to its important Ohio freight partner at Dayton, the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad.[6] Both the IR and the C&LE ceased operations within a few years.

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Middleton, Wm. The Interurban Era: p124, photo of a large THI&E wood combine with its very prominent cow catcher.
  2. ^ Middleton: p157, excellent photo of THI&E combine grinding around a sharp Indianapolis street corner.
  3. ^ Rowsome: Trolley Car Treasury, p138, photo of Indianapolis Traction Terminal with three THI&E cars ready to leave at front of the Terminal.
  4. ^ Keenan, Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad: p86, photo of Dayton and Western interurbans at Dayton.
  5. ^ Harwood, Herbert: The Lakeshore Electric Story, p217-220, importance of freight business between Cleveland and Indiana.
  6. ^ Keenan: p137-8, p189-190, freight lost due to D&W closing.


  • Bradley, George K. (1991). Indiana Railroad, The Magic Interurban. CERA Bulletin #128. 224 pp, Chicago, IL: Central Electric Railfan's Association. ISBN 0-915348-28-4. 
  • CERA Bulletin #40 (1941). Terre Haute, Indianapolis, and Eastern Traction. Chicago, IL.: Central Electric Railfan's Association. 
  • CERA Bulletins #19, Various authors and CERA staff (1940). Electric Railways of Indiana includes the Indiana Railroad which took over the THI&E in 1931.. Chicago, IL: Central Electric Railfan's Association. 
  • CERA Bulletins #101, #102, #104, Various authors and CERA staff (#101, #102, #104 in the 1970s.). Electric Railways of Indiana includes the Indiana Railroad which took over the THI&E in 1931.. Chicago, IL: Central Electric Railfan's Association.  Check date values in: |year= (help)
  • Keenan, Jack (1995). Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 
  • Harwood, Herbert (2000). The Lakeshore Electric Story, 298p. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 
  • Hilton, George W.; Due, John F (1960). The Electric Interurban Railways in America, 409p. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 
  • Middleton, Wm. D. (1961). The Interurban Era. 432 pp, Milwaukee, WI.: Kalmbach Publishing Co. LCCN 61010728. 
  • Middleton, Wm. D. (1983). Traction Classics, 4 volumes. approx 800p. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books. ISBN 978-0-87095-085-8. 
  • Marlette, Jerry (1940). The Indiana Railroad System, CERA Bulletin 17; 30p.. Chicago, IL: Central Electric Railfan's Association. 
  • Marlette., Jerry. Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern, Your Neighborhood Interurban. Lecture based article available on the Internet. 
  • Marlette, Jerry. Internet available article about the Indiana Railroad interurban of 1930-1941. 
  • Rowsome, Frank (1954). Trolley Car Treasury, 200p, chapter: The Empire of the Interurban.. New York City.: Bonanza Books. 

External links[edit]

  • [1] THI&E and Indiana Railroad photos from Dave's Electric Railroads site.
  • [2] THI&E photos from Don Ross' Rail Photos
  • [3] Indiana Railroad Society historical articles and maps regarding Indiana interurban lines.